The Process of Olfactory Evaluation


Do we only perceive fragrances through our nose?


A recent study conducted by neuropsychologists at the Ruhr-University Bochum demonstrates that our brain preprocesses emotional visual information into our olfactory processing already before we smell an odor. This pre-processing of visual images takes place in our so-called piriform cortex; a region which has been found to generate predictive ‘templates of olfactory stimuli to facilitate olfactory processing’. In other words, emotions released by any visual cue significantly influences our fragrance (odor) judgment before we even smell it.


In their study, the neuropsychologists primed odors of different valence (pleasant, neutral, unpleasant) with images of different emotional facial expressions (happy, neutral and disgust). Results showed that pleasant fragrances achieved a significant higher appeal when smelled after the respondent was shown a happy face and a significant lower appeal after shown a negative emotional facial expression (disgust).


“Our findings are the first to demonstrate that the piriform cortex preprocesses emotional visual information prior to any olfactory stimulation and that the emotional connotation of this preprocessing is subsequently transferred and integrated into an extended olfactory network for olfactory processing” says Patrick Schulze member of the research team.


These results should be of major interest for marketing and market research for FMCG, especially in product categories where fragrance/odor plays a major role (e.g. household care, body care, perfume, food). In my 20 years of multisensorial market research experience, fragrance ‘liking’ scores where the most ‘instable’ scores depending on the stimuli shown and/or the research design chosen (blind vs. branded).
This study confirms how crucial a market research test design is when it comes to fragrance evaluation AND how any visual cue (name, packaging,…) can significantly influence the fragrance evaluation in a positive or negative way.
Thus, when it comes to fragrance evaluation, it is not just a matter of checking the ‘liking’ score.


© MULTISENSING+ - Reference: Ruhr Universität Bochum, Scientific Reports, 2017, DOI: 10.1038/s41598-017-09295-x